Global Trader: Why Worry About A China Crash?

A little secret about Wall Street: sometimes the headlines that look biggest don’t really move the market. China is a classic example.

From the headlines this week, you’d think Chinese stocks had drifted over a steep cliff . . . and after years of training ourselves to think of this as the second-biggest economy on the planet, that’s a stressful proposition.

“China ETFs Tumble on Xi’s Power Play.” That’s bad for people who held funds like MCHI and KWEB a month ago. But between those two funds, we were really only looking at about $10 billion in assets in the weeks before Xi Jinping called the latest Communist Party Congress.

And the problem is the stocks those two funds picked. The Chinese market itself is down only 4% in the past month. The Hong Kong market, on the other hand, is a better reflection of foreign money pouring out of the mainland . . . and it’s down 13% over the same period.

I’d much rather be in the NASDAQ than Hong Kong. But is a 13% dip on the Hang Seng moving global markets?

As remarkable as it sounds, there’s an enormous gap between the world’s second-biggest economy and Wall Street, the world’s biggest market. U.S. companies account for 60% of all capital flowing through global stocks.

China as a whole weighs in at barely 4% of the global pie. HK on its own doesn’t even rate a percentage point. It’s less relevant to the overall capitalist landscape than the Netherlands.

In fact, in terms of pure capitalization, all the stock in mainland China adds up to about $4 trillion . . . a lot of money anywhere except when you stack it up to Wall Street, where the sheer number and scale of commercial giants overshadows everything else.

All of China’s stocks put together might balance Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT) on their own. And then you’ve got everything else in the S&P 500 . . . and the Russell 2000 . . . and even the micro caps.

Don’t get me wrong. The Chinese economy is very important to U.S. companies that rely on Chinese customers for revenue and growth. But in the grand scheme of things, Wall Street is the market that still calls the global tune.

Even Shanghai needs to respect that. Maybe one day the balance across the Pacific will tip. We’re a long, long way from that point now.

To achieve parity, Shanghai basically needs to rally 1000% while Wall Street stands still. That’s unlikely. Or Shanghai needs to hold its ground while the S&P 500 drops 90%. That’s also probably not going to happen.

Anything that affects one of these markets to that extent is probably going to move the other in the same direction. And as it is, Shanghai is down 13% in the past five years. The S&P 500 has rallied 50% over the same period.

The China market has shrunk. Ours has powered ahead. Keep that in mind when you see shock headlines and wonder why your fellow investors aren’t paying attention: they just don’t care.